Fish Lake was central to the aquatic environment presentations held Monday and Tuesday during the federal review panel hearings for the New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine.
Describing himself as a “town crier” Dr. John Stockner, expert witness for the Tsilhqot’in National Government, predicted within a decade Fish Lake will die if the mine was developed.
“It will die for the fish,” Stockner said.
“They simply will be forced in one February night under ice cover and a skim of snow in darkness, the fish will be forced to the surface of the ice,” Stockner said.
Taseko’s project manager Greg Smyth sought clarification on comments on water treatment made by TNG expert Don MacDonald.
“Were you suggesting the details cannot be worked out in the permitting stage?” Smyth asked.
The central issue around the assessment is whether or not Fish Lake can be preserved, MacDonald responded.
“The information that was generated by the company demonstrates clearly that there would be exceedances of levels that are predicted for individual contaminants to cause adverse effects.”
MacDonald said it’s essential everyone understands all of the measures specifically that are going to be used to assess the water quality of Fish Lake, during the environmental assessment, otherwise it’s not possible to conclude with any certainty that the project can proceed without having adverse effects on the lake.
When asked how his expectations compared to current regulatory guidance for environmental assessments, MacDonald responded he expected to see three years of monthly data collected at key locations at the mine.
“In addition we indicated we would like to see four, five and 30-day sampling events during that three-year period, including two during high flow events and two during low level events,” MacDonald said.
After a presentation by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, panel member Ron Smyth said DFO’s presentation highlighted uncertainties about preserving Fish Lake.
“Are there any other ways to reduce these uncertainties so that reviewers can have confidence in the project or are we just left with adaptive management and compensation?” Smyth asked.
DFO has provided some information in its submission on suggestions of improvements that could be made, different mitigation such as channel maintenance flows, and maintaining temperatures, said senior fisheries protection biologist Brenda Rotinsky.
Dr. Daniel Selbie, also part of the DFO team, said there are a lot of factors driving the lake’s system.
“Other presentations have raised concerns about climate change and how that might affect the system,” Selbie said. “We haven’t heard a lot about how the mitigation strategies might have an impact on the aquatic ecology of Fish Lake and how that will translate out to Rainbow Trout populations.”
At the end of the two-day aquatic sessions Tuesday, Taseko responded briefly to the presentations and promised it would submit more in writing to the panel.
“I think some of the presenters may have simplified some of the actual reports they were talking about,” said Ryan Whitehouse, senior aquatic biologist with Triton Environmental. “In many of the reports the baselines were deemed to be inadequate and that led to uncertainty which leads to an inability for them to properly evaluate the environmental affects.”
Whitehouse said he would be the first to admit the baselines are not necessarily perfect, but Taseko can always collect more data.
“I think the panel will find that Environment Canada recognized the water quality baseline to be adequate to make their decisions and perhaps some of the expectations of the other experts were outside the expectations placed in normal environmental assessment baseline studies.”
Whitehouse also suggested the experts did not deal with the company’s entire report as a whole.
“For instance, they’d pick one thing that they wanted to talk about and disregarded a lot of other things, and sometimes incorrectly even said that we didn’t handle those other things.”
The environment is an extremely complicated thing, Whitehouse said.
“What we’re left with to deal with these complications is perhaps oversimplification, but they are models and there are defensible ways of dealing with it whether they are water quality guidelines, whether they are models to predict productivity.”
Project manager Greg Smyth said there was a large team effort on the project to try and understand all the particular issues around water quality.
“There was a lot of different interaction over many many months to bring this together so there was a good understanding of our respective models by the project team.”
Project manager Scott Jones, “cut to the chase,” on water management and said while no other project may have been required to do what Taseko is proposing — to preserve Fish Lake — each of the components of the system have been proven.
“In short, all of the components of the system have been proven at this scale they just haven’t been put together in the way that we are proposing they be put together,” Jones said.
Taseko’s legal counsel Karl Gustafson said uncertainty was a recurring theme throughout the aquatic environment presentations.
“Certainty is not required for the panel to make its decision,” Gustafson said. “In a proceeding of this nature uncertainty is to be expected.
The assumption is that’s something we have to live with as these kinds of projects evolve in these early stages and then progress through detailed design and permitting.”
On Wednesday the topic-specific hearings switched to terrestrial environment and on Thursday to human environment.
Starting next week the community hearings in First Nations will be begin, with the first sessions in Nemiah Valley on Tuesday Aug. 6. Full transcripts and audio recordings are available on the CEAA website.